Tuesday, 30 June 2020

Historic Homebrew: Perry's 1934 X Ale - A Satisfactory Unsatisfactory Brew...

Back at the start of this year - which seems a lifetime ago given recent and ongoing events - I took a trip a few kilometres north to view a rare batch of brewing records from a defunct Irish brewery - Robert Perry & Son of Rathdowney in Laois. The records are held in the local studies department of the Portlaoise library and are viewable by appointment only, so after a couple of exchanged emails I presented myself at their door and was ushered in to a book-packed room and a table full of cardboard boxes. The total of what I've found there must wait for another longer piece of writing and will entail some return visits, as I only rifled through some of the boxes held there and each contains a wealth of information. Although some of it relates to the non-brewing part of the business such as financial correspondence, leases and other topics, it will require time and dedication to sort through it all in detail - and it may require a wiser and more patient mind than mine!

The idea of brewing a Perry's beer has always appealed to me, indeed a couple of years back I brewed a double stout from these records thanks to a recipe published in Ron Pattinson's 'Let's Brew!' book. So, as my information-greedy eyes scanned over the recipes in the brewing books in the collection I decided it might be time to brew a little more from their records. Perry's are relatively well known in brewing history circles in Ireland but they deserve even more attention, especially for the range of beers they produced. Their line-up over the years included Special Stout, XX Stout, X Ale, XX Ale, Porter, 'ND' Pale Ale, Pale Ale, Pale Dinner Ale, XXXX Strong Ale, Vintage Ale, IPA and probably more, including brewing the famous Phoenix ale at one stage towards the end of the brewery's life in the sixties when it was part of a bigger conglomerate.

At this point it is well worth mentioning that I am not a great brewer and currently brew on an old Brew-in-a-Bag system, which is just about adequate as a kit. Regardless, I decided to plough on with my attempts to recreate a historical brew, so after copying various recipes from the books into PDFs I sent some off to Edd Mather and Ron Pattinson who both specialise in this sort of thing. I was particularly interested in an early X ale or Mild, as this is a style I like and one that was a little rare in Ireland - although more common than many had thought, which you will be aware of if you have read some of my other posts.

One from 1934 caught my eye...

Edd put a recipe up on his blog and Ron duly obliged me by sending back a relatively simple homebrew version that I could adapt for my kit.

And so, off I went and brewed an Irish Mild which ended up an amalgam of both recipes...

It should be noted that if you look closely at the entry for the beer in the image from the brewery book above you will see that it says 'Unsatisfactory brew. Ale very dull when racked.' but undeterred I pressed on with the experiment. I took a few liberties with the recipe, such as using Crisp's Chevallier Malt, which was probably not what Perry's would have used, and also by fermenting with a dried English ale yeast, but I tried as much as possible to stick to the recipe as far as percentages and timings were concerned. The alcohol content wasn't quite right but ended up at an acceptable - to me - 3.5% with 30 IBUs according to the software I used. I racked it into proper pint bottles, which it wasn't put into at the time I'd imagine(?), and left it to condition.

So how did it taste? Well very pleasant if I do say so myself! The above photo in a 1939 pint glass (the closest I had to the brewing year) was taken when it wasn't completely conditioned but it has since dropped clear in the bottles and is a wonderful golden colour. It's mostly biscuit - Rich Tea with Malted Milk and a dash of Ginger Nut with a pleasantly odd, light floral bitterness. At the time of writing the carbonation is nearly there, I think it needs another week or two, although the head retention is quite poor.

Certainly far from 'Unsatisfactory'!

Is it the same as the original brew? I'm pretty sure it isn't but that's not the point, the point is that I rebrewed it, drank it, and posted here and elsewhere about it.

As I've said before, we need to remember that once upon a time, and not too long ago, Ireland brewed more than just stouts and red ales...


With thanks to Edd, Ron and the nice people in the local studies department of Portlaoise library.

(I might add that any errors and mistakes are mine and nothing to do with the recipes.)

[All written content and the research involved in publishing it here is my own unless otherwise stated and can not be reproduced elsewhere without full credit to its source and a link back to this post.]

Monday, 1 June 2020

'Operation Frothy' - The Beer That Wouldn't Die...

The village of Gambell sits right on the northern most tip of the St. Lawrence Island in the remote north west of the American continent, closer to Siberia at just 70 km away than to the Alaskan mainland coast. Gambell is officially classed as a city but a quick glance at any online mapping site shows a small town of low wooden house arranged in a grid like formation, with a few municipal building and a hotel on its fringes. Its population in 2010 was just 681 practically all of which are the indigenous Yupik Eskimo people1.

On the face of it this would not seem to be a place where one might find anything remotely interesting beer-wise, but back in 1959 it had a problem that even made it into an Irish national papers, as the story crossed over a continent and across to this side of the Atlantic.

During World War II the U.S. Air Force operated an Aircraft Control and Warning Station in Gambell, which meant providing for the considerable number of personnel that were stationed around the area. Even after the that war ended the US military maintained a presence in Gambell as The Cold War started to escalate, given its geographical closeness to the perceived enemy no doubt - a cold place to monitor an equally frosty war from indeed. When the army eventually left that area of the island in 1956 or 1957 the literally covered up any sign of their presence (including plenty of ecological nightmares) and moved to the other side of the island2, and this is where my interest was prodded...

As amongst the other things they buried were 7,000 cases of canned beer.

If this strikes you as odd on a number of levels I'm not surprised, as it certainly peaked my interest when I read the following article in a newspaper from August early 19593.

 Beer that would not lose it's "head" 
US. troops were being flown into a tiny island 50 miles off Russia's eastern coastline this week-end for their third assault on the beer that would not lose its "head." In official terms the mission to St. Lawrence Island in the Bering Sea is to destroy the remains of 7,000 cases of canned beer abandoned there when American forces moved out in 1957 
For the beer - condemned by medical officers as unfit and stacked in earth-covered pits - proved too great a temptation for local "inebriates," according to Senator E. L. Bartlett (Democrat. Alaska). 
The islanders went to work on the "beer pits" with picks and shovels. and "much vandalism" occurred, the Senator said. 
Now the local Council of Gambell village has mounted a 24-hour watch over the beer until the soldiers arrive. Nothing short of an all-out operation will destroy the beer the islanders say. 
And if army experience is anything to go by they are right. When the beer was dumped in 1957 it was covered in oil and petrol and burned and finally buried. 
It survived and a battalion the National Guard landed on the island and mangled the cans with a bulldozer for 24 hours and set them on fire once more.
This time a secret method is to be used to rid the island of the beer. and an officer of field rank will certify complete destruction the Senator said.

Ignoring the obvious typo in the headline - as I'm not one to talk - this was an intriguing article which raised a number of questions, not least of which were; Why so much beer? What was wrong with it? What exact beer was it? And what Happened next?

I decided that some research was required and although I haven't got to the bottom of all those questions I  did manage to find a little bit more about the story, including an interesting twist at the end so stick with me.

First I found an article from an American newspaper published the day before the one I referenced above that filled in a little more information4. Under the headline 'Trouble Brewed - Platoon is Ordered to go on a Beer Bust' we get a different amount of 7,000 cans quoted, which although a considerable amount is a lot less than 7,000 cases regardless of the case quantity - 24? This article also expands on the vandalism cause by the 'natives' [sic] and states that 'village council' send a letter to the local senator reaffirming that the beer mining has...
"...constituted a growing and serious menace to the health, peace and welfare of our community"
Fair enough.

Going back a little farther I found a mention on the 27th of July in a South Carolina newspaper5. under the headline 'Eskimos Have Beer Problem', stating as per my first article that it was 7,000 cases not the above 7,000 cans. The writer goes on to quote a junior senator named Gruening from Alaska who says that such a huge amount of beer would...
"... have constituted a lifetime supply and it would have required a very hearty group of men, indeed, to cope with it even over the period of the next 25 years."
He also states that the 'better element among the local Gambell Eskimos' had tried to destroy the beer themselves but lacked the manpower and equipment and then goes on to ascertain that there were probably about 70 personnel stationed on the island and it must have 'been a wrench' to leave behind 100 cases or 2,400 cans of beer each.

The writer signs off with the line:
'...Senator Gruening refuses to get me passage to Gambell Island [sic]. It seems like an interesting place to spend the summer.' 

Thankfully someone snapped off at least one picture of the operation and it appeared in Life magazine in August 19596. Here again it mentions 7,000 cases not cans so I think we are getting closer to the true figure - perhaps - and this time the stash was destroyed with TNT and the task took 2 weeks to complete, or so it reports. Interesting that one of the cans here has been clearly opened for consumption. I wonder did one of those pictured here feel the need to try one? Just to be sure that it was undrinkable of course...

Then, on September the 17th a Liverpool paper7 ran this story under the headline 'Troops Go Into Action With Tin Openers' 
A detachment of U.S. Army engineers armed with tin openers has just completed a melancholy mission on remote St. Lawrence Island off Alaska. 
The mission dubbed "Operation Frothy"—was to destroy a cache of beer burled by the U.S. Army when it left the island two years ago. 
Village elders complained that thirsty residents were digging up the beer in large enough quantities to constitute a menace to the community. They asked the army to come back to destroy the brew. 
The Alaskan Army Command reported that 19 enlisted men and two officers were flown the Island. They bulldozed a hole "one and a half times larger than an ordinary football field" to uncover the cache, which contained soft drinks and chocolate milk In addition to 2,000 tins of beer. 
"All of these were destroyed by opening the cans and pouring the contents upon the ground," the army reported. 
The army dispatch said: "It is impossible to say that 100 per cent. of this beer has been destroyed" but it added that any remaining would be "of such small quantity that It no longer represents a threat to the health or discipline of the community."
So 'Operation Frothy" involved 21 soldiers and now the opened beer cans in the picture possibly make sense, and given the size of the hole they excavated to get at the cache I think they might be underestimating the the number of beers - 2,000 - that they mention here, but when we read another version of the story in an Indianapolis newspaper8 it has two additional remarks, which throws more light on the numbers, plus it gives the exact dates of the operation.
[The] company which conducted the operation from Aug. 3 to Aug. 22 failed to locate the 7,000 cases of beer. All they could find were 1,500 to 2,000 cans of beer...
and most importantly
"Questioning of the members of the village failed to disclose the location of any other burial sites within the area."
So it appears that most of the cases of cans had 'disappeared' in the couple of years since the army had last tried to destroy them, and the huge hole they dug was a way of trying to find the rest of the cache. But it certainly sounds like some of those in the village didn't want to give up on their stash...

But what beer was it?

In Beer Cans: A Guide for the Archaeologist(1993)9 the author D. B. S. Maxwell states that during WWII at least 18,000,000 cans were produced for overseas consumption, so although our stash is later than that period it does show us just how much beer the US army bought and goes some way to explaining our stockpile of 7,000 cases. He also states that 40 different breweries produces these beers during the war and even if we reduce that dramatically post war it still probably leaves a good few possible contenders, perhaps the stash was from multiple breweries given the volume, which would make sense. Interestingly he confirms what we would imagine, that these cans were camouflaged or plain, 'olive-drab' or grey in colour and had a matt finish so as to be non reflective, with the actual brand name in black, and although I'm not sure if it's safe to assume the same packaging was used in the late fifties one would think it would be the case. The cans were flat topped and opened using a punch called a church key, which left the two holes we can see in the photograph of the operation.

If I was to hazard a guess - and that is all it is - I'd suggest it may have been Schlitz lager or maybe Blatz, as both seem to have had a connection with supply for the Korean War, it's just a pity the above photo from Life isn't a little clearer...

As to what exactly was wrong with the beer, I haven't found any other comments other than the earlier mention that it was 'condemned by medical officers as unfit' to drink, perhaps the cans had started to rust and disintegrate due to poor storage originally, or other similar issues...

But that's not the end of the story...

Just when I was beginning to think that I had exhausted my search I came across a Blog post by Bruce Bond10, and it seems that some of this tale has been partially told before and he relates in that post a discussion he had with a person called Dennis Corrington in Skagway, Alaska. Bruce told him the story of the destruction of the beer and then Dennis in turn tells him a story...

In the 1960s Dennis had been hunting on St. Lawrence with a friend, one of the indigenous people, and was asked if he'd like a beer. Dennis acquiesced and was then led down a tunnel into a beer mine, where they both enjoyed on of those long buried beers!

So, that's just about as much as I can find out, but I can't help think there is a movie that could be written around the story. Are there any screen writers out there?

I also wonder if perhaps those beers are still there now, kept safe and sound by the cold of the tundra landscape...

It is of course highly unlikely but who knows? Perhaps finding these beer mines are a right of passage, in tales passed on through the generations of local people?

After all, it seems like Operation Frosty was an abject failure...


(All written content and the research involved in publishing it here is my own unless otherwise stated and can not be reproduced elsewhere without full credit to its source and a link back to this post.)

1 Wikipedia - Gambell

3  The Sunday Independent - 2nd August 1959 via The BNA

4  The Spokane Daily Chronicle - 1st August 1959 via Google Newspapers

5  The Greenville News - 27th July 1959 via Newspapers

6  Life Magazine - 31st August 1959 via Google Books

7  Liverpool Echo - Thursday 17 September 1959 via The BNA

8  The Indianapolis Star - 13th September 1959 via Newpapers

9  Beer Cans: A Guide for the Archaeologist(1993) D. B. S. Maxwell

10  Bruce Bond via Wordpress Blog

Friday, 15 May 2020

Pub Tales: First Encounter...

Childhood memory is a curious thing...

For most of us it's full of the selective memory of summer sunshine, the smell of hot tarmac or freshly cut meadow grass, and snatches of possible misremembered events which, for some obscure reason, have become lodged in our psyche. I often wonder why we can clearly remember the banality of the mundane but can't quite precisely remember the funeral of a grandparent or some seismic world event. Perhaps the answer lies in markers left by our senses in our memories, where touches, smells, sights and tastes combine to form a half remembered puzzle of a particular moment.

My first memory of being in a public house was in the very early seventies when I was five or six years old. We lived in the rural hinterland and travelled each Saturday morning to the local mini-metropolis to do our weekly shopping. This task in itself was carried out efficiently by my mother but we would all make the journey in to town anyway, for moral support and a chance to walk paved streets for a change I guess. I was the youngest of four and being the only boy I was probably watched more closely than my sisters, especially as my parents had lost twin boys some years before. This perhaps explains the tight hold my father held of my wrist as we walked down the main street with my older sisters in tow, having been shooed away by mother from helping with the shopping. I can still recall that almost too tight grip of his left hand and the warmth and security it provided.

I looked up to see a man approach my father with a huge grin, hands were shook and greeting exchanged, garbled and unclear in my head now but genuine and heartfelt. I vaguely remember a mention of long nights travelling and music so I assume this stranger to me was a member of one of the showbands from the fifties in which my father played before settling down to have a family, and sadly having to pawn his trumpet. A drink must then have been mentioned as I can recall being led through a clattering swinging door and into a dark, smoky place - cooler and quieter than the street outside.

I can remember being hoisted by the armpits on to a bar stool, and a well dressed man behind the counter looking sternly at us, a somewhat scary authoritative figure to my young eye. I have no recollection of what my father drank but my best guess is a small bottle of Guinness, as he wasn't a big drinker, preferring ludicrously strong tea to alcohol at home. I can recall the cold counter top but could not tell you what it was made off, although when I close my eyes now I imagine it to be grey speckled marble with shiny brass fitting and twice as deep as any bar counter today, but I do remember we were surrounded by dark timber that clad most of the surfaces in the bar. As my ears and eyes became used to the space I could hear the low murmur of others around us and how bright the outside world seemed through the huge, glass windows that looked out on to the busy street. As romantic as it might sound I can see specks of dust floating in that light that shone in on the tables by the windows, tiny stars drifting dreamlike in slow motion.

Next there was a clink - so perhaps it was a marble counter top - as an orange mineral in a glass bottle was plonked in front of me, the image of a castle on the label rotated to face me and a straw dropped in, with the same ritual being repeated for my sisters as we perched on those stools legs dangling, with my father's voice droning beside us as he reminisced with his long lost friend. We sucked on the straws and the sweet taste of over-sugared orange nectar coated our tongues, as we sat quietly making no sound until we eventually found the bottom of the bottle and that final slurp marked an end to our treat.

There was a sense of contentment there and then that I've found hard to recollect in any other youthful experience. I am not sure why that would be as I had a very pleasant childhood when I look back on it now, uneventful more so than boring. Perhaps it was just that shared experience of being in a bar sitting quietly as the voices of others washed over us, or perhaps it was the coalescing of remembered sensations of pipe smoke, those motes dancing in the sunlight, the sweet taste of our drinks, and the cold counter. Maybe it was the ritualistic experience of sitting at at bar with our legs dangling over the stools, the stern look and the clink of glass and its ceremonial placement.

Or maybe it was the combined affect of the whole experience along with the fact that it was a rare treat...

I don't remember leaving that pub but it would have just been a short visit before meeting up with my mother and making the trek back home, laden with shopping bags and what I presume was the disappointed feeling of that lost contentment, as unappreciative as that may sound.

That same ritualistic feel is what still appeals to me about the pub, like some transferred religious experience for a non-believer. It's not just a place to procure a drink, as that makes a pub sound too functional and clinical even though that is a part of it of course. Good pubs are a triumph of the whole experience over the sum of its deconstructed parts, and any misspent afternoon in one still for me relives part of that first contact from so far in my past. The sounds, smells and sights are not quite the same for sure, and that childhood version is probably embellished by misremembering and tainted by nostalgia but even if my mind has made some of it up, to me it was true and is still true today.

I wonder was the seed for my love for a good pub sown on that day?

By the way, I'm fairly sure that first pub I visited all those years ago is the same one I call my local now ... so perhaps fate - if real - is a curious thing too.


Sunday, 3 May 2020

A Perry's Ale Advert - Lest we forget...

The Wicklow People - Saturday 21 July 1934
I'm putting this advert in a post for no good reason other than I quite like the image and sentiment - not to mention the 10-sided tankard - and that I just spent the weekend brewing a couple of Perry's ales from the 1930s - well an ale and a porter to be precise...

It may also help to emphasise - perhaps - that the brewing history of our country is about more that a few well-known brands, we really should be researching, discussing and celebrating our whole beer related heritage before it disappears or is swamped by the fakelore of marketing companies who don't really give a damn about our real brewing history.

And, yes, I know I'm banging the same drum again...


(All written content and the research involved in publishing it here is my own unless otherwise stated and can not be reproduced elsewhere without full credit to its source and a link back to this post.)

(Advert via The  British Newspaper Archive)

Thursday, 30 April 2020

Who Brewed Ireland's First IPA?

So who brewed Ireland's first IPA?

Well the closest by name appears to have been brewed by Eliza Alley, Sons & Co. in Townsend Street, Dublin in 1842 according to this advertisement.

Okay, I'm taking liberties with the word 'ale' vs 'beer' but I think that can be allowed. There were pale ales being brewed before this, including a 'strong' one by a Burton brewer who set up in Dublin in the previous century, but this seems to be the first brewery to have advertised a copycat version of Hodgson's pale ale...

Any earlier versions out there?


(All written content and the research involved in publishing it here is my own unless otherwise stated and can not be reproduced elsewhere without full credit to its source and a link back to this post.)

(Advert from Freeman's Journal - Friday 12 August 1842 via The  British Newspaper Archive)

Seeking Solace

You push, the creak, a crack of wood on wood
The soft murmur of voices from the hidden snug
Low highbrow music crawling from old speakers
A sharp laugh echoes from the dark distance

Old beer and a new perfume linger, pleasant, relax
Coffee laden air that awakens a closed-eyed mind
A sudden, false-pine scent that clings too long
From somewhere behind drifts loathsome smoke

Ice-cold, sticky marble brings back old memories
Half-wrapped in tall timber’s warm embrace
An elbow jarred by carelessness, no matter
Feet perched on metal, a footrest for the ride

The raised hand of knowingness, question asked
Lights slants across a table, reflections shimmer
The nod of shared experience down the line
A glass of perfect anticipation placed, here, now

The cold feeling on fingertips, a welcome tingle
Bubbles break, drift and burst, repeat, repeat
A thirst is quenched, an itch is finally scratched
That place. Solace sought, found and found again



Wednesday, 22 April 2020

'Where do you get your Cooper?' Ireland's (at the very least) first beer brand...?

Advert  - Holborn Journal - Saturday 21 February 1863

From the end of October 1862 until early 1863 the following piece appeared as a short column in a number of Irish and English newspapers:
Bottled Cooper
“What stuff is that?” growled out a passenger seated alongside the driver of omnibus the other day when he heard him smack his lips after swallowing a pint of new decoction and exclaiming “That’s first-rate.” The old roadster, looking sneeringly round, exclaimed “Don’t you know? Why, to be sure, its half porter and half stout.” The inquisitor was still dissatisfied asking, “Why call it Cooper?” This was enough to rile even a ’bus driver, at the same time feeling a thorough contempt, for such glaring ignorance that he weighed over to himself whether or no he should then satisfy his importunate companion ; but taking pity upon one evidently “from the country,” he ejaculated, “Oh, do you want to know that too ? Well, that’s easily answered. You must know that some time ago Jack Cooper, who used to drive one of the Brompton’s when be pulled up at the White Horse Cellar, Piccadilly, always had glass of this stuff; and the potboy seeing his ’bus pulled up, would always sing out – ‘Another glass of Cooper.’ The barmaid knew what was meant; but nobody else. Well, you see, this name got abroad, and now everyone does his Cooper. Take my advice, ‘Governor,’ when you feel dry take a drop.” Reader be very much obliged for this solution. Few people indeed know the origin of the word “Cooper.” Now, however, we have just had an improvement introduced in the shape of “Bottled Cooper.” Messrs. Beamish and Crawford, brewers, of Cork, who have had the supplying of the refreshment department the International Bazaar, and whose beers, by-the by, have been patronized for the quality and price, finding it necessary to have agent, appointed Mr. Henry Johnson, of the Circular Vaults, St. Paul’s; and him the public have to thank for the introduction of this popular drink. The idea suggested itself to him that what was palatable as draught drink would be doubly so when bottled.

Now I'm certainly a fan of the odd piece of beer-related fan fiction but let's not put too much faith behind the story of the origin of the name 'Cooper' which is usually described as a half and half mix of stout and porter and named after actual coopers, but it does highlight a little known story about Beamish and Crawford's arrangement with Henry Johnson to sell their stouts in London. This is well covered in Beamish & Crawford - The History of an Irish Brewery, where a small chapter in the book explains, according to the authors, how Henry Johnson makes contact with Richard Pigott Beamish and how it was agreed that Johnson would sell a mix of their year-old Extra Treble Stout and Single Stout from his warehouse in London. It would be bottled there and sold with a nice bright label bearing the Beamish & Crawford name with a trademarked image of a castle flanked by two soldiers over the word 'Cooper', and caged with branded corks, at a price 2s and 6d for a dozen pint bottles - cheaper than similar products and at what were said to be draught beer prices. (Although as you can see from the advert at the top of the page, some of Johnson's agents sold it for more.) There was even an advertising 'jingle' called, 'Where do you get your Cooper?' to accompany the launch. It all ended in tears, as Johnson had both supply and quality issues (He apologised for both in the advertisement below.1) and was accused of using other brewer's beers instead of Beamish & Crawford's (Where did you get your Cooper indeed Mr. Johnson!?) so the brewery cut its ties with him at the end of April in 1863 and he was declared bankrupt not long afterwards. (A J. Hazard was selling 'The celebrated bottled Irish Cooper' in June of 1863 from the same address as Johnson's.2) You can read more about it in the book but it raises a few interesting points and I have more thoughts on it too...

The most important perhaps is that I think that Cooper may have been the first Irish - and perhaps even British? - beer to be marketed with a brand, jingle (I know I'm taking liberties here...) and editorial advert? I'm not aware of any others that existed this early - although I'm not aware of a great many things in truth so...

But of even more importance perhaps is whether we can look at Cooper's castle and not Bass's triangle is the first trademarked beer brand/logo? Albeit under and earlier trade mark act I think, and were their others before this too? It clearly says 'Trade Mark' on the label. (I can't reproduce it here as I'm unsure of copyright issues with posing even fragments of the above mentioned book.)

And there are a few more points to make too...

In August 1862 there were a couple of advertisements for Beamish and Crawford's Extra Treble Stout bottled with the above mentioned castle label and corks but not the Cooper brand name, this to my mind means that perhaps the whole range had similar branding - including the single and double - and that the 'Cooper' was only launched in October of this year, as it wasn't mentioned in these adverts?3

It's worth noting that according to an advert for his Irish Cooper from March 1863 Johnson also sold unblended Extra Treble Stout and also Drogheda Strong Ale as well as East India Pale Ale, but no mention of the porter he blended with the triple stout.4 (But as mentioned above, in August 1862 he stocked singles, double and treble stout.) Directly above this advert is one for bottled 'London Cooper' from Laidler and Fitch - some local competition it seems!

So was this the first bottled Cooper on the market? I can find some from Whitbread and others after this date but not before. And where did the bottled version actually originate if not Johnson? In 1871 'The Cooper Company' claim to have originated the product in 1862 and were still selling it at the same price of 2s and 6d per dozen.5 In 1875 they were selling it at the same price and here's what they say about the product itself:
The Cooper's Company Cooper is not plain porter, under the assumed name of Cooper, but is what the Copper Company originally professed it to be - viz., Dublin Vatted Stout and London Porter. [My emphasis]6
So, that's somewhat of a change from what it started out as, and I'm thinking perhaps that this company was formed on the ashes of Johnson's old company or was relaunched in this way by a former agent of his. (Johnson's stock of ports, sherry and 30 dozen bottles of Cooper were auctioned in November 1863.7) It would appear that the statement of what Cooper was - although probably true at the time it was published - has been twisted to something more marketable, as Dublin Stout and London Porter were likely to be a more marketable and saleable commodity at this point. The irony is that given the shenanigans of Johnston this is quite possibly what he was actually selling to unsuspecting punters back in 1863! (The Cooper Company were also selling Treble Dublin Stout by this time, as well as 'family' ale and India pale ale.)

(Curiously, in 1886 Cundell and Camozzi in Tavistock were selling a bottled Cooper that was a mix of 'Stout and Bitter' for 2s per dozen.8 Make of that blend what you will, as it was just in an advertisement...)

Anyhow, as ever I've probably raised more questions than I've actually answered, but its good to get this part of Ireland's - and London's - brewing history online and findable for others.

Perhaps some Cork brewery might revive the 'Celebrated Irish Cooper', or maybe a Dublin and a London brewery could do a collaboration?

Just don't forget the marketing, the trade mark - and that jingle!


(All written content and the research involved in publishing it here is my own unless otherwise stated and can not be reproduced elsewhere without full credit to its source and a link back to this post.)

1London Evening Standard - Monday 09 March 1863

2 Illustrated Weekly News - Saturday 27 June 1863

3 London Evening Standard - Thursday 28 August 1862

4 London Evening Standard - Tuesday 17 March 1863

5 Stroud News and Gloucestershire Advertiser - Friday 18 August 1871

6 Kilburn Times - Saturday 10 July 1875

7 London City Press - Saturday 31 October 1863

8 Tavistock Gazette - Friday 05 November 1886

All via The British Newspaper Archive and Beamish & Crawford - The History of an Irish Brewery (2015) by Donal Ó Drisceoil and Diarmuid Ó Drisceoil

Monday, 13 April 2020

Fancy a Murphy's IPA? - The forgotten origins of Cork's Lady's Well Brewery...

Image pre 1890 from Barnard's The Noted Breweries of Great Britain & Ireland

(This post is a combination of a couple of older posts on this subject which I've revised and updated with extra content.)
The things you find when you're down a rabbit hole of printed brewing history...

I love looking through old newspapers,as they are such a great source of material for those looking into the past, as they are a snapshot of a particular day or date in time that might otherwise have been lost forever, akin to a word-based Polaroid - albeit one that needs to be assessed with the knowledge of who had their finger on the shutter release at the time, and what direction they were pointing the camera. These papers are of course a great resource for capturing monumental events or catastrophes and in doing so they can give you a much better feel for a society's mood as well as firsthand accounts. They are a goldmine for revisionists of history who can look back to events before and after a particular time to see if the winner-written history was really as accurate as it was portrayed. All of that is fine providing the facts being reported are what actually happened, and everything is reported in a non-partisan way, and unfortunately this is not always the case, 'Fake News' - or even 'No News' - is not a new concept. So although I am a little wary about certain content, in general I give a degree credence to what's written in older papers with regard to certain aspects of beer history, especially if reported in multiple sources.

Where am I going with this? Well up until relatively recently I associated Murphy's in Cork just with stout (apart from their dip into red ale), and if asked I would have stated that Murphy's Brewery (or James J. Murphy & Co., or more correctly Lady's Well Brewery) was founded as a porter brewery back in the day. Anything I had read mentioned just porter or stout, with at most a mention to a mysterious and short-lived 'Lady's Well' ale. I had of course fallen into the trap that many have before me, of forgetting that marketing people and not historians write the history of Irish breweries these days - something I am quietly trying to rage against via blog posts and Twitter-speak. Much of my ammunition comes from those old newspapers, and although I regard them relatively warily, they generally tend to speak a closer version of the truth than a fakeloreified advert from 100 years after an event.

So when by chance I came across a write-up on the opening of Lady's Well Brewery brewery from back in 1856 in The Cork Examiner I decided to give it a read, not thinking it would hold much interest for me. I was of course very wrong, as it gave me a first hand perspective of what the ethos and business plan was for the brewery when it was initially founded.
We hail with pleasure the commencement of a new enterprise in the opening of the magnificent brewery at the Watercourse, which will be known by the name of The Lady's Well Brewery. The undertaking is one that not merely reflects great credit on the commercial activities and spirit of the gentlemen concerned it, but will be likely to prove of great benefit to the city in the addition it will make to its resources of the industrial employment, and the very large amount of capital which its success will be the means of putting into local circulation. The names Messrs. James J. Murphy and Co., highly [and] deservedly popular throughout the town and country, have been chiefly known of late in connection with the extensive Midleton Distillery, but the decided opening which lay in the brewing trade has made them turn their attention [to] that branch of business, with what chance of success we shall endeavour to give an idea.
I was unaware at the time of the seemingly well documented Midleton Distillery connection until I read it here first, since then I've read about it in books such as The Murphy's Story by Diarmuid Ó Drisceoil & Donal Ó Drisceoil in which it is well detailed, as well as on some online sources.

The article continues...
   In this country it is well known that the consumption of porter is very large, and that there is business in that direction to occupy a manufactory, we need not say; but there is new ground to be broken in which we feel a more direct interest, leaving as it does an opening for enterprises capable of indefinite expansion. For the last few years a taste has grown up in this country for a light sparkling drink called "bitter beer," or "pale ale." The rapidity with which the sale and use of this article has grown up has been most extraordinary, knowing how difficult it is to change the habits and tastes of persons in such respects. The article of this kind sold in Ireland - unless in cases of adulteration or imposition - is exclusively the manufacturing of the breweries of Burton-on-Trent, and comes from the celebrated houses of BASS, ALLSOPP, SALT, &co., &co. An idea of the extent to which the article has gone may be inferred from the fact, that Cork's receipts of one of those firms amount to nearly thirty thousand pounds a year. When we take, then, into consideration that our city forms but a small item in the list of consumers of an article which is exported alike to the Equator and Antipodes, we will see what a vast field for specification and enterprise lies in its manufacture. Hitherto, however, no attempt of any importance or any large scale was made in this country to compete with the gigantic English establishments. One reason, it may be mentioned, that has been popularly alleged, was the want of a water containing the peculiar qualities which gave so much merit to the Burton ales. But it happened some time since that the building known as the Foundling Hospital was put up for sale, and it was purchased by the Messrs. MURPHY. It is a splendid situation for a brewery, containing a range of buildings embracing an open square of nearly 200 feet. In addition to this, however, it contained what was still more important to their purpose, a well or spring of water coming from the same rocks, and of the same quality as the delightful Lady's Well; and also of properties precisely similar to those of the celebrated Trent water, taking advantage of this circumstance, the Messrs. MURPHY resolved to enter upon the manufacture of ales, in which they have already achieved a decided triumph.
I found this to be a very interesting and exciting paragraph, as it seems to more than suggest that the stout porter we now associate with Murphy's was not the original reason for starting the brewery. If this editorial write up, which at times comes across as an advertisement and an ego massage for the Murphy's, is to be believed - and we should take everything here with a small pinch of salt perhaps - then the original plan for the brewery was to set themselves up as direct competitors to the glut of pale ales that were - seemingly - swamping the country, as well as exporting a good deal of the ale brewed. They were hoping to launch a full-on assault on the larger English ale breweries was my interpretation of this.

(I have no idea if the water being drawn up from the eponymous Lady's Well was akin to Burton's magic liquor but it is certainly possible...)

It continues...
   If energy be an element of success, the new firm decidedly can boast of it. They got their building on the 27th of July, and on the 8th of December the commenced brewing. When they took possession of the concern, all the found available for their purpose was the large shell of the building. They had to erect floors and fittings, pipes, vats, shafts, chimneys and machinery. All their work was done under the superintendence of their brewer, Mr. GRESHAM WILES, and as it has been constructed on the newest and most advanced scientific principles, a passing reference to it may not be devoid of interest. In the first place, it may be remarked, the entire of its processes are regulated and carried on by steam; and in this respect it is, we believe, quite unique in this country. Then there is scarcely a single item of its machinery which has not undergone some improvement, and does not mark an advance upon the old system. For instance the mash tun, a huge vat where, by means of huge teeth or saws, the essence of the malt is extracted, is covered with a coating of enamel, a perfectly new invention, which the firm have registered. The advantage derivable from this is chiefly its obviating any chance of mixing the colours of porter and ale, a defect to which machinery of the ordinary kind, in which both are brewed, is very liable. Even the contrivance by which the grains are expelled from this vat, after the essential principle of the malt has dropped through the false bottom, is, though simple, a great saving in labour and at the same time a great novelty. A more important improvement, however, has been effected in the machinery for extracting the essence of hops. In place of the older mode, which involved considerable waste of fuel and employed a great deal of labour, a new system, also registered, and about to be patented, has been adopted by the firm. The boiling batches (two of which are used for extracting the bitter juice of the hops - one for porter and another for ale) are covered with a perforated false bottom. In connection with this is a "sparge," or cylinder of copper, through which, by means of pipes, steam from the boilers is introduced. From the various apertures in the cylinder the subtle vapour permeates through the hops, leaving not a single one untouched, and extracting in a most complete manner their bitter principle. An equally interesting improvement has been effected in a process of depriving the porter of superfluous yeast; in the cooling apparatus, and even in the process of transmitting the malt from the lower floors through two series of flats, to the top of the building; but we do not feel ourselves at liberty to enter into particular descriptions of these. It might be thought that with so many novelties in the machinery of the brewery, there would, at some one department at all events, be risk of failure; but though on the occasion of the first brewing, out of twenty-five men employed in the establishment, not one had ever been engaged in a brewery before, not a single item failed or went out of order, and all the machinery worked as freely as if it had been twelve months in operation. The capability of this machinery may be judged, when we mention that, in full work, it can brew 5,000 tierces of ale or porter in the week or an aggregate of 260,000 tierces in the year. In connection with the appearance of the building, we may allude to one fact en passant, which will be of interest to a large class of our readers. There are no less than 150 gas lights burned in the establishment, and though the Messrs, MURPHY received most enticing proposals from the United General Gas Company to contract with them, they preferred to aid the citizens of Cork in their anti-monopoly movement, and declined the tempting offers made them.
5,000 tierces is around 800,000 litres, which is an awful lot of ale - even if it is hypothetical ale - and I don't know enough about 1850s breweries to know whether this is a little on the high side perhaps but it seems that the Murphy's were nothing if not ambitious so perhaps it is correct. Certainly the description of the enamelled covered mash tun with its 'huge teeth or saws' sounds impressive, but some of the other descriptions of the equipment are a little vague, and the 'sparge' being used to extract the 'essence' from the hops seems to me to be either rushed note taking on the part of the writer or Mr. Wiles was deliberately confusing the writer so as not to let others know his secrets, but yet again it's all quite interesting and perhaps there is such thing as a 'hop sparger'... [Edit: There is! See Ron's comments below...]

Another interesting point is that the The Murphy's Story mentioned above states that the brewer was one Edward Lane when they opened, this is at odds with the comments regarding Gresham Wiles above, so presumably he was just employed to set up the brewery and perhaps to train Edward Lane. (Curiously, there was also a Lane's Brewery in Cork at this time - which incidentally appears to have been connected with an alarming number of accidents, some fatal - but I'm not sure if there was a connection with this Edward Lane or not, although an Edward Lane was also involved with another Cork brewery, Arnott's - St. Finn Barr's Brewery, in the city. His successor at Murphy's, Edward Herring, also joined Arnott's and there is another story involving a public-touted porter brewing challenge - perhaps a post for another day...)

Let's keep going...
 The manufacture of the brewery consists of common draught porter, bottling stout, imperial stout, mild, sweet, bitter, and pale ales. Of the qualities of some of these we can speak as affording promise rivalling, nay, in some respects, surpassing, the beverages produced by the great BURTON houses. The "Lady's Well" ale, made with the spring water of which we have spoken, is one of the most agreeable malt drinks that could be manufactured. It is a clear, amber colour, possessing a light, piquant bitter, and its flavor is in every respect fully equal to the highly-prized, a we may add, highly paid for, BASS or ALLSOPP. The bitter ale is of a stronger kind, and its acid quality is more powerful. This ale is intended for export, and from the success of this article we look for results of great importance, as, should a local firm obtain a most footing in the foreign markets, or which Burton brewers have so long enjoyed a monopoly, we might look forward to its laying the foundation of a new and valuable trade for this city. Of all the manufactures of this new establishment we can only speak in terms of commendation, but we confess to taking the strongest interest in that which leads them into competition with the English firms. They have laid the foundation of their undertaking in the soundest manner; they have brought to its assistance skill, capital and enterprise; they have constructed it with every advantage which science can afford, and we consider, therefore, that they deserve to succeed. The qualities which they have brought to their aid, are indeed those of which we have been most deficient in this country, but we trust to see the success of the Messrs. Murphy affording an example and a stimulus to others to strike out new paths of industry and increase the manufacturing energy of the country. 
~The Cork Examiner 31st December 1856
This paragraph was for me the most interesting, as it describes the beers being brewed at Lady's Well when they opened. So it seems that '...draught porter, bottling stout, imperial stout, mild, sweet, bitter, and pale ales...' were being made. Again I took this with a degree of scepticism but it all seemed to be accurate, as why would they report otherwise? So it looks like there were four paler ales were being produced as well as the darker ales we are more familiar with from Murphy's, and it was nice to see they brewed an imperial stout! The list of beers looks very like what we normally expect from English brewers, which is more than a little unkind on our own brewing history but up to recently many of us had been brainwashed into thinking that all we ever brewed were stouts and red ales. (As you have seen from my previous posts this is far from the truth if you go back a century or more - or even sixty years for an Irish brewed selection of pale ales.)

The description of the 'Lady's Well' is of an amber coloured ale (Hardly a nod to the infamous quasi-mythical 'Irish Red Ale' of prose and poetry?) and seems to mention a light but sharp bitterness and they compare it favourably to Bass and Allsopp pale ales. The writer then goes on to talk about the 'bitter ale' being of a strong kind, so more alcohol perhaps(?) and more 'acidic,' which we should probably take to be being more of a highly hopped bitterness than actual sour bitterness ... and they say that this is the ale intended for their assault on the export market.

Plenty of interesting information here even if you dismiss all the praise for the beer and brewer.

Then I discovered that the writer in the Cork Examiner was not the only member of the press who appears to have gone on a trip to the brewery, as the following piece appeared in The Cork Constitution newspaper the next day. This write up focuses on the brewing machinery and vessels mostly and combined with the previous post it gives a better picture of the size, scale and workings of the brewery.

    A few years ago a stranger visiting Cork, and entering the city from the former terminus of the Great Southern and Western Railway, might have noticed a large square building, the high walls surrounding which frowned darkly up on the narrow and crowded thoroughfare. This building was the Cork Foundling Hospital founded in the latter half of the 18th century for the support of deserted children of both sexes and maintained by a tax upon coals. For many years the establishment continue to exist but the progress of legislation, which has subverted so many still more venerable institutions, has at length abolished the Cork foundling hospital. The property in the building became vested in the Poor Law Guardians, who wore it first desirous that it should be converted into an Emigration Depot, and entered into communication with the Emigration Commissioners for that purpose. It appeared, however, that, partly from the growing conviction on the public mind that emigration ought no longer be assisted by the home government, the Commissioners could not assent to the terms required by the Guardians or the use of the building. Subsequently the Guardians were about to offer the building to the military authorities for the purpose of an auxiliary Barracks, but for this its situation was on suited and at length the premises having been offered for sale to the public, they have been purchased by Messrs J. J. Murphy and Co., who intend devoting them to a more practical and, we hope more profitable, if not more useful, objects that close originally contemplating. Few persons not acquainted with the subject and have any correct idea of the immense quality of malt liquor annually manufactured in these countries It is calculated that in England the amount yearly drank is 3½  gallons per head on the entire population in Scotland 2 1-9[?] and in Ireland 1 ½ - that the entire quantity consumed per annum is 17,000,000 barrels. In addition to what is consumed by our home population, vast quantities are exported to almost every part of the habitable globe and the consumption, so far from diminishing, is largely augmenting every year. In England malt liquor is emphatically the national beverage - it is the favourite drink of the artisan, and is found on every dinner table. In Ireland it does not seem to have please the public taste so well as in the sister Kingdom, still large quantities are consumed, and it is to be hoped it may ultimately supersede the more intoxicating and less nutritious produce of the still.
At this time whiskey was the tipple of choice for many in Ireland and this is noted here with regard to the beer consumption per head, but it might also explain why the Murphy's didn't succeed in their bid to great an ale brewery to rival those in England. Although it's possible they just were not great ale brewers of course!
    Comparatively little of the building which went to form the Foundling Hospital was available for the purposes for which the premises were purchased by the Messrs. Murphy, and considerable expense had to be incurred in order to render the works complete. They possess, however, one great advantage in having an inexhaustible supply of the purest well water, suitable for manufacturing the finest bitter and sweet ales. The entire area included within the boundaries of the premises is 258 feet square. The building runs along each of the four sides and, is 18 feet in depth, thus leaving an open square in the centre of 240 feet each way. In the middle of the square is the well already mentioned, from which the water is pumped up a depth of 60 feet, as often as wanted. For the purpose of securing a sufficient supply, a tank has been constructed capable of holding 3,000 barrels, communicating by pipes to all parts of the building, thus any damage from fire maybe obviated. The water or “liquor,”’ as it is termed in brewers phraseology, is either soft water, for the manufacturer of porter, or hard water which is preferable for fine ales and beer.
Again we have mention of the quality of the water here, although it's somewhat confusing that they mention both hard and soft water in the last line. That may be just a general point and not suggesting that they were magically pulling both from the same well! [Edit: See Ron's comments below...]
    The entire of the building and apparatus of the brewery was erected under the superintendence of the Messrs. Murphy's brewer, Mr Gresham Wiles who studied subject under Mr James Young, of Messrs. Hoare and Co, London, one of the highest practical brewers in the Kingdom. The premises have been taking possession of by the Messrs. Murphy in July, operations were immediately commenced to render them complete at the earliest possible period, and in the lapse of a little less than six months they were so far completed that brewing was entered on. Acting under the advice of Mr Wiles, the materials are entirely heated by steam, not as usually the case by common heat. Steam is supplied from boilers situated in a detached building - it is of a new patent construction, combining the principles of the Cornish and the tubular boilers. In appearance it consists of two horizontal cylinders 18 feet in length and seven feet in diameter, running parallel to each other. Underneath are the fires, which present a great improvement over those commonly constructed, as by a lever the stoker can break and pulverize the coals, and keep up the heat without opening the doors of the grates. These boilers not only heat the materials but feed several steam engines amounting to 70 or 80 horse power, which communicating by shafts to various parts of the building keep the apparatus in motion. 
The aforementioned list that I thought sounded 'English' was perhaps reflects the training of Mr. Wiles at 'Mr. James Young of Messrs. Hoare & co. in London' and was probably why he was employed by the Murphy's in the first place.
    Ascending to the first loft the visitor is shown the mash tuns, which are 8 feet deep, 18 feet in diameter, and each capable of mashing 120 quarters of malt. The interior of each tun is enamelled, a process patented by Mr. Wiles and which enables the tun to be readily cleaned after each time of filling. All malt liquors are in one sense brewed in the same way; that is to say, the water goes into the copper, passes thence into the mash tun, through that into the receiver, then into the copper again, after which it is cooled. It then passes into the gyle tun where it undergoes the process of fermentation, and thence it is cleansed into the cask. In this general light, the process is alike, but on the mode of which the various operations are conducted, on the proportion and quality of the ingredients, on the temperature, time, &c., showed in the different portions of the process the entire quality of the produce depends. This is of course one of those “secrets” which every manufacturer keeps undisclosed, but it is reasonably to be expected that has improvements are made from time to time in the mode of operation the quality of the produce will be better, and the cost of manufacture reduced. In this respect some innovations have been introduced in the establishment of the Messrs. Murphy, the effect of which is stated to economise time, and while cheapening the expense of manufacture, to produce a liquor at once combining strength of body with excellence of flavour.     In the Lady's Well Brewery, the boiling is effected by steam, and such is the rapidity with which it is effected that the entire liquor, in two large batches, containing 200 barrels each, can be raised to a boiling temperature in three quarters of an hour. Boilers contain ‘sparges’ which are constructed upon a patent principle, combining economy of fuel with rapidity of operation. The liquor having been raised to the proper temperature it is let into one of the mash tuns already mentioned. Each of these “mash tuns” is capable of containing 430 barrels. The malt, having been ground, is then shot into the mash tun. Each mash tun at the Lady's Well Brewery may be filled and empty three times a day. The time and manner of hopping vary among different brewers, some using more and some less. Much of course, depends on the kind of ale or porter required to be brewed, and the particular particular market it is intended for. The heat should be just sufficient to separate the aromatic portion of the plant without extracting the rank and injuries elements. To the judicious management of the hopping is mainly due the mild and pleasant flavour of the “Lady’s Well Ale” manufactured at Messrs. Murphy's Brewery, and which bids fair to acquire and extend the popularity.
Another nice mention of 'Lady's Well Ale' here and a description of its flavour, however vague it sounds...
    From the copper in which the work has been hopped it is passed into the cooler, where is is brought rapidly down to a lower temperature by means of the refrigerating process, which is affected by cold water, introduced through numerous pipes running through every part of the cooler, until the wort is brought down to the requisite temperature. It is then introduced into fermenting tuns of which there will when the establishment is completed be eighteen, holding from 200 to 500 barrels each. The process of fermentation which general generally last for days, is completed in Messrs. Murphy's establishment in half the usual time, after which it is drawn off into the cleansing rounds, where it undergoes a further fermentation before being fit for use. The cleansing rounds are 150 and number, and contain 8 barrels each.     The vats in to which the liquor is subsequently introduced are of large size holding from 500 to 800 barrels each. Some idea of the extent of this establishment may be derived from the fact that they can now produce 5,000 barrels of malt liquor, each barrel holding 36 gallons, per week
 The Cork Constitution - 1st January 1857

As you can see it describes in a bit more detail some of the equipment and buildings than the first article and is probably of interest to those who need to see the nitty-gritty of how the brewery operated on its opening, but again allowing it's not being described by a professional brewer.

But we are not finished yet, as here is a third write-up which I found more recently in the Southern Reporter and Cork Commercial Courier from the 31 December 1856. This contains some common material but some new nuggets to, particularly on the range of beers being brewed at the time.


Frequent it has been our lot to complain of the great absence of enterprise which too strongly characterises our local commercial community, we feel a considerable amount of pleasure and satisfaction in being able, our present impression, to direct attention to an undertaking which reflects most creditably on our city generally, and, in particular, on the enterprise and spirit of the gentlemen concerned in it—we allude to the establishment of the Lady’s Well Brewery. The large pile of buildings which up to a recent period was occupied, and is still known, as the Foundling Hospital, on the Watercourse, and which includes, we believe, an area of 250 feet by 200, has within an astonishing short space of time been metamorphosed into a most complete and unique brewery, fitted up with all the late scientific improvements, and displaying some extremely useful and novel adaptations, never heretofore introduced into the brewing apparatus. The establishment of a manufactory in district is an epoch of importance in its local history, and this importance becomes greatly enhanced when the object of that manufactory is to diminish the imports and increase the exports of the particular place ; and this being one of the aims of the Lady’s Well Brewery, by our most respectable and spirited follow the Messrs. James J. Murphy and Co., we are inclined to hail it as a tangible indication of our local prosperous state, and a practical development[sic] of our capabalities—capabalities[sic], too, which, we are confident, will not be neglected or misapplied by the intelligent proprietors of the new brewery. The great demand which of late has sprung up in this district for such beverages as ales and porters, together with the vast quantities of “Bass,” “Alsop[sic],” and Burton,” &c., that are annually imported into this country could not have failed to attract the attention of any practical observer, pointing as such facts most unmistakably did, to great want in our local manufactures; and as there was no reason to believe that, with proper attention and proper management, Irish capital and Irish resources could not compete, in this particular department, with English imports, the offspring of the great energy and persevering application of our English neighbours, the Messrs. Murphy set themselves to work, and, have no hesitation saying, they will open to themselves a vast trade, which heretofore was entirely monopolised the English brewers—they will prove, beyond question, that all want this country, in order to rear up a great, a stupendous, and a lasting prosperity, is a little enterprise on the part of those who possess the capital—that are rich in natural resources, and in the intelligence and shrewdness which mark our artisans, and that the materials for an abundant commercial harvest are absolutely lying waste in all directions. Therefore, from those and other considerations, we greet, sincerely and warmly, the opening of the Lady’s Well Brewery.
Well there's an opening paragraph that really lets you see the writer's allegiance to the Murphy's! (It's also nice to see someone writing's that use more commas than I do...) Here again, amongst the hyperbole and praise we can see that this enterprise was indeed set up as an ale brewery to compete with English imports, and more. It's almost like the production of porter and its cousins were meant to take a back seat in the brewing scheme.
In the fittings-up, arrangement, and general details of the concern, the utmost credit is reflected on Mr. Wm. Gresham Wiles, under whose superintendence they have been carried out, displaying as they do, in a remarkable degree, large amount of scientific skill, great practical ability, and the most perfect order and regularity—desideratums of no inferior Importance such in such an establishment. What those works are—in order to give our readers some idea of their extent, powers, &c., we may mention they are capable of producing 5,000 tierces porter, stouts, pale, mild, and sweet ales per week, being a total produce 260,000 tierces a year—a capability which contrasts in a satisfactory manner with that of some of the largest breweries in this country or in England. The energy and activity which was displayed  to arrive at this efficiency may be estimated from the fact that the Messrs. Murphy did not get possession of the premises until the 27th of last July, and on the 8th of the present month they commenced brewing! It may not uninteresting here to state that this concern is the first and the only brewery in which steam has been thoroughly applied to the manufacture of beer. Heretofore the process was to inject the steam for the purpose of heating the liquor, while in the Lady’s Well Brewery it has been applied, with, the most successful results, by means of a boiling sparge—invented for the purpose by Mr. Wiles, and, we believe, patented by that gentleman—and the introduction of this most ingenious machine, he has achieved great and most desired improvement in the manufacture of beers, one to attain which much exertion has been made and time devoted by eminent brewers, and by which, with the nicest particularity and an important saving of time, the oleaginous[sic] and valuable particles of the hop are extracted, while the rosenous[sic] and coarser particles, which, when admitted into the wort impart a rankness of flavor, are unerringly excluded. We were also struck by a novel, and, now when known, simple contrivance, which a large amount of advantage must be attained, in the construction of the mash-tun. This nothing more or less than the enamelling of the inside of the tun, which, while it secures the most scrupulous cleanliness, enables the brewer to produce the brownest stouts and the palest ales in the same mash-tun, of course, at different periods. Although this may not be considered of any remarkable importance, it does assume some consequence when we recollect that in the old-fashioned timber-tuns, if ale and porter were made the one concern, the ale generally received something more than the colouring of the stout, which the timber had absorbed. It is only justice to acknowledge that this valuable improvement also has emanated from the intelligence and practical experience of Mr, Wiles, the brewer and manager of the establishment, and most creditable pupil of the eminent James Young, of Hoare and Co’s. Brewery, London—a man who has arrived at the highest eminence his profession. The cooling apparatus is also worthy of particular mention, being entirely on a new principle, and securing the greatest expedition in reducing the temperature of the wort. This is attained by means of the application of cold blasts on thin layers of wort, under which there are currents cold water constantly passing.
At least we get a mention of dark beers again here, plus a florid description of the brewing process and that enamelled mash tun. We also get another mention of the 5,000 tierces they could produce if need be...
Having said so much on the dry details, we may now speak of the quality the different articles produced and this we can do from experience. In the first we may say they embrace no less than seven distinct kinds, viz:-. common draft porter, bottling stout, imperial stout, mild, sweet, bitter, and pale ales, besides brown and pale ales and porters for export trade. The ales, which are produced from the highly prized water that supplies Lady’s Well, are exceedingly agreeable—the bitter possessing all the tonic recommendations without any of the disagreements of the ales at present in vogue; while the porter and stouts are highly nutritious and palatable beverages. We must not omit to mention—in fact, recommend the ale which the Messrs. Murphy have given the title of “Lady’s Well Ale.” It is a light, pleasantly-bitter and grateful drink, and highly calculated to fill a vacuum long felt in the want of a dinner table ale. It is the intention, we understand, to sell those ales in such quantities, as small as even nine gallon cask, that must prove vast accommodation to the public, and the heads families in particular.
Southern Reporter and Cork Commercial Courier - 31 December 1856

Again we get a description of the wonderfully diverse range being brewed by Wiles at this time, although it could be interpreted as still being a little vague given how it is presented. Once again though, we see 'Lady's Well Ale' being pushed and promoted, this time as a light table ale. This view of the company in particular runs like an advert more than an impartial article, one wonders if money changed hands or if all three contributors were sent home with a supply of 'Lady's Well Ale'!

This was all interesting and informative but we still have no detail of what was actually being offered for sale apart from tantalising mentions and hints, with very early adverts just stating that ales and porters would be available from the beginning of 1857. Then on the 12th of January 1857 the following advertisement appeared. Complete with prices, which seems to prove that all of this range was available from this date.

Wow! This seems to make it clear exactly what was being brewed at the time, no less that seven ales and five porters:


Lady's Well
India Pale
Cork Sweet
Cork Mild
Cork X
Cork XX
Imperial Ale 


Draught Porter
Bottling Double Stout
Imperial Stout
Imperial Double Stout
Single Stout

Nice to see that Cork Mild -  with a capital 'M' -  as well as a 'Cork Sweet', an X Ale and am XX Ale, so it's clear that when they opened they were brewing more than one or two beer types, as why else would you advertise and price everything? It's also worth noting their description of being and 'Export Brewery' and later adverts like the one below emphasise this and 'Pale Ale' even more so.

In May of the same year the conquest for both domestic and word domination was still in progress, as the following appeared in the Tralee Chronicle:

We published some months since, from the Cork papers, very lengthened and interesting account of this gigantic enterprize, then in process of completion, and which is now an accomplished fact. After expenditure of over £40,000, the Messrs. Murphy are now giving to the country the best practical proof their sagacity, the production, immense scale, of porter and ale of quality already commanding an eager demand on the part the retail trade Ireland, but such must place the spirited and patriotic projectors a position, exporters, every part of the globe, on level with the great brewers of England who have hitherto enjoyed such world-wide monopoly. This is but another evidence. among the many springing up every day, of what can do at home, and what fruitful sources of commercial aggrandizement are scattered through the length and breadth of our land, where there is energy, self-reliance and honourable industry to unveil the fountain.

As will be perceived by the advertisement elsewhere, Mr. Henry Donovan has been appointed agent for Kerry, and a visit to bis stores in the Square will convince the most sceptical of the superior quality of the article manufactured Lady’s Well.

 Tralee Chronicle - Friday 08 May 1857

Unfortunately that wonderful looking range does not seem to have lasted too long, as an advertisement in November of the same year list just XX Ale, XX Stout, X Stout and Porter seem to be available.

On the 9th of December 1857 there is an advertisement for table ale available from the brewery.

On 24th of December 1860 a Imperial West India Stout was being bottled but after that the advertisement appear to dry up for anything different or exotic from what I can see.

So, it appears that this huge trade they had hoped for in domestic and exported ales never materialised, and they dropped back to what the public obviously wanted, and what their biggest rivals in the city, Beamish and Crawford were famous for - porter. As far as I am aware it would be another 100 years before anything other than dark beers were brewed in the brewery...

It's a pity that a 'Murphy's IPA' or 'Lady's Well Imperial Double Stout' never became the household names around the globe that the owners envisaged - in fact they were forgotten in their own country, and even own city...


(Incidentally a William Gresham Wiles died in a accident in 1863 at the Gresham Wiles & Brown brewery of South Malling, Lewes, England according to online sources. I wonder did he head back to England when his huge range of beer failed to make the impact he had hoped, or if he had stayed instead of Edward Lane would the original plan have succeeded? He almost certainly would have lived longer...)

With thanks to my local library for the original research and The British Newspaper Archive for more recent additions and images.

(All written content and the research involved in publishing it here is my own unless otherwise stated and can not be reproduced elsewhere without full credit to its source and a link back to this post.)